When I first saw it I couldn’t believe it. The Guinness World Record for the World’s largest K’NEX structure is held by a life-size replica of the Bloodhound Supersonic Car made from 383,422 parts. This incredible engineering feat of engineering was unveiled at Brooklands Motor and Aviation Museum and I was blown away by what had been achieved using just 12 different types of K’NEX parts. Talk about inspiring. This had my head spinning like a frenzied wind turbine; just imagine what you can do with K’NEX pieces in other projects.
As an entry project into the wonderful world of K’NEXing I would choose something all civil and structural engineers should play with: bridge building. The K’NEX Education Real Bridge Building kit is a superb and totally unique set containing a whopping 2304 pieces that can build seven different replicas of famous world bridges. Possible models include Tower Bridge in London, Firth of Forth Bridge in Scotland, Sydney Harbour Bridge in Australia, and in the USA the Golden Gate Bridge, Chesapeake Bridge, Dames Point Bridge and Astoria Bridge. Once built, the models measure between 150-180cm long and are fabulous replicas. It is such a versatile resource that you could use it from Key Stage 2 to Key Stage 5. The beauty of this kit is that the pieces mimic a true structural engineering system – so you can put the art straws and toothpicks away and get serious about building!
Journey of discovery
The K’NEX Education Real Bridge Building set has been designed to help students learn about the history, function, structural design, geometry and strength of bridges. And it does this brilliantly. Students might think that building a bridge can’t be all that difficult until they start the process and begin to appreciate the many variables and challenges that interact with each other. Using these high-quality resources they soon learn that real bridge building involves complex engineering solutions. It is perfect for linking theoretical concepts with practical experience.
The easy to follow instructions provided for each bridge are based on different principles so students get to see and learn first-hand the intricacies and ingenuity of designs such as arch, beam, cable-stayed, truss, suspension, cantilever and bascule. Not only do young people learn to define the characteristics and differences between bridge types but they get to investigate the strength and stability of structures through experimentation, calculate costs and solve challenges.
The activities in this set also offer students lots of great chances to undertake independent enquiry and research, explore real-world issues, creatively work together and build positive relationships too. Even when all the models have been built the fun doesn’t end there as students can ‘Bridge that Gap’ by engaging with challenges to build a bridge to their own design without instructions.
This set works on so many levels for classroom use across the STEM curriculum, and is perfect for design and building competitions, investigations, clubs and after hours learning, too. The bits and pieces are packaged in two strong plastic storage containers with lids to keep everything safe, and there are enough parts for two groups to build any bridge so there is no need to worry about pupils fighting over who’s using what.
The kit comes with an impressive teacher’s guide to support you every step of the way, including extensive background information to teach and assess. It will also bolster your own subject knowledge and understanding giving you the confidence you need to answer questions and support students. The guide includes five types of activities, background information readers, excellent teaching notes, student enquiry sheets, glossary, reading list, useful websites, and a CD-ROM of building instructions for students. It’s everything you need to be a K’NEXpert.
The bigger K’NEX sets of course have bigger price labels but they are worth every penny. The quality of the materials is top-notch and they are robust too so will easily withstand continued use. What you are paying for isn’t just the parts but the spin-offs of learning about design and technology, science, maths and teamwork. Bridges are an engineering marvel that connect people to resources, places and other people. The K’NEX Education Real Bridge Building set does something similar by connecting students, their ideas and creative forces, and providing the structure to learn about the importance, pervasiveness and sheer ingenuity of bridges – and what it takes to get from one side to another.
In fact, I’m so inspired I think I might just have a go at building the Oresund bridge that connects Copenhagen with Malmo… I might just need a few more parts!